Morgan Hill Schoolchildren Lose in Battle against Charter Schools

Are our children doing well? The data suggest some children are considerably worse than others. More than fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech,” and a day after the anniversary of his birth, race and poverty are still factors at the root of some abhorrent local statistics.

According to data from the state Department of Education, socio-economically disadvantaged youth in Morgan Hill Unified School District in 2012 had an aggregate Academic Performance Index score of 699. English Language Learners and Hispanic students had an API of 715, while in the same year white children scored an API of 856. That gap is unsustainable and threatens the health and economic vibrancy of Morgan Hill and Silicon Valley.

This is one reason the Santa Clara County Office of Education and its Board of Education have been working to address this inequity through a myriad of measures, including the authorization of high quality charter schools. For this reason, I am troubled and angry about what happened at a seven-hour meeting last week.

Last Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting was gut-wrenching. We have been an activist board, voting to add charter schools for poor and minority children in San Jose and Silicon Valley. We have done so through our role as a charter school authorizer or appellate body. The Board has acted due to the urgency to improve achievement results for all children in an environment of equity.

Even though the 7-member board has been split at times, voting 5-2 to approve numerous charter schools, most votes in my tenure have been unanimous or 6-1 to approve after a careful review of the petitions. Our meeting was very different on Jan. 15, 2014. We have never been as divided on a charter school petition as we were on the Navigator Morgan Hill Prep petition. We were lobbied heavily to vote against or for the petition on appeal by parents, teachers, district leaders, students and labor.

All seven trustees believe we have a serious problem with equity and the achievement gap. We all believe we cannot sit back and wait for districts and their leaders to do things differently to address this gap equity issues. We have the bully pulpit to help create systems that work to improve achievement outcomes for poor and minority children.

The work is too difficult to do alone. That is why the charter school act was passed in California in 1992. The legislation was intended to allow small, autonomous schools to innovate and then spread what is working to systems where there are fewer governmental regulations.

Each member of the Board received hundreds of emails supporting a vote to approve or deny Navigator Morgan Hill Prep. Litigation was threatened by the MHUSD, which denied the petition in November on a 6-1 vote.

During the last year, Superintendent Xavier De La Torre has worked to develop a robust charter school oversight department, which is responsible for vetting petitions coming to the Board for countywide approval or on appeal from one of the 31 school districts. De La Torre believed we owed it to our district partners to make certain beyond reproach that a petition met a high level of legal conformity.

State law gives the county Board and state Board of Education the authority to do a de novo review to determine whether or not to authorize when a district denies a petition. The county’s new Office of School Innovation, charged with a professional review of the petition, came back to the Board with a recommendation to deny the petition due to minor yet “disconcerting” deficiencies.

Consistent with the recommendation, I voted to deny the petition. Three of my colleagues did as well. But the 4-3 vote to deny Navigator on appeal is troubling. I believe Morgan Hill Unified should have been a collaborator with Navigator, as Gilroy Unified and Hollister did from the outset. Hollister Superintendent Gary McIntyre testified to the SCCOE Board that Hollister Prep has made a positive difference in meeting the learning needs of its students, and in so doing has helped raise the educational bar in the traditional public school space it shares.

Navigator founder James Dent should fix the deficiencies in the petition and resubmit to Morgan Hill Unified. Hopefully, MHUSD will then agree that it can use some help in addressing the egregious gap in achievement. I believe MHUSD is trying to address the underlying problem, but working with credible partners will ultimately benefit children in Morgan Hill.

I have already invited Mr. Dent and Navigator to come back to the SCCOE Board with a new petition and submit a direct, countywide benefit charter for 2014-15 for Morgan Hill and surrounding areas.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.

4 Comments

  1. The county’s new Office of School Innovation, charged with a professional review of the petition, came back to the Board with a recommendation to deny the petition due to minor yet “disconcerting” deficiencies.

    If the deficiencies were “disconcerting”, then how can they be characterized as minor?

    Consistent with the recommendation, I voted to deny the petition. Three of my colleagues did as well. But the 4-3 vote to deny Navigator on appeal is troubling.

    What are you troubled about?  That you were in the majority?  That 3 others agreed with you?  That the petition shouldn’t have been denied?  If it’s the latter, then why didn’t you vote to approve it in the first place?

    Your problem is that your are not really “troubled”.  Your are confused.  Seriously confused.

  2. The post *was* a bit rambling and perhaps should have been just focused on what turned out to be the main point, as I read it- that MHUSD and James Dent should have collaborated more with county officials to ensure that no deficiencies existed in the petition, so that it could have passed.
    But, IMHO, we should also stipulate that government, at any level, will not be able to cure all social ills, including factors relating to school performance that occur in the home. To wit, not all poor children underperform, in fact in many cases the opposite is true. Ditto for any other social factors government do-gooders may cite.
    In fact, the citation of ‘white’ children in the article belies the citation of ‘English Language Learners and Hispanic’ when apparently the author meant ‘brown’ children. By the way, what color are Asian children- don’t they count?
    We should indeed provide an atmosphere and facilities that foster learning for all children, without resorting to class, caste, or color designations.

  3. Di Salvo,

    You credibility to speak on this topic, or any other educational related one is laughable given the continued issues your dysfunctional board is causing County Superintendent Dr. Xavier De La Torre, preventing him from leading the way on issues such as high-performing alternative public schools.  How can you ‘ramble’ on about the children of Morgan Hill losing out when the children of the entire county are literally losing out with a county board being currently led by a majority of inept, governing losers?  I find it hypocritical that you point your finger at others, while three (3)are pointing back at you?  You talk long, you talk loud, but you’re never really saying a ‘GD’ thing.

  4. Di Salvo,

    Earlier message s/b ‘YOUR’, not you.

    Anyway, another point about your continued ‘conflicting’ messaging. You talk A LOT about saving the under-served student populations in our county.  Latinos are quite under-served in Morgan Hill as the data demonstrates.  However, your board of education (quackery) is too afraid of being sued by the MH school board if you support an alternative public school path (a charter school) that may finally educate these students?  This only makes perfect sense in a paradigm where ‘white power’, privilege (status quo) is preferred.  And given this link to the County Board’s Nov 13, 2013 meeting (http://www.sccoe.org/countyboard/Documents/2013-14/111313/12B.pdf), I completely understand why not only what the underlying reason to the charter school appeal being denied is, but also clearly explains why County Superintendent Dr. Xavier De La Torre is being so mistreated by your board.  Look at the data in your own slides, showing the changing demographics in the leadership of the workforce at Ridder Park in general and in particular the leadership team.  The ‘White’ numbers are going down while the ‘non-white’ (Hispanics, Asians, etc.) are going up.  This change in ‘who’ leads whom is causing grief among some – especially the leftover ‘trash’ from the Weis era who have long enjoyed their ‘white privilege’.  It is one thing to work with ‘people of color’, but working for a ‘Mexican’ is just too much for them.

    So, again – this national angst in some ignorant segments of the populations about the changing demographics of America – you know – the Rush Limbaugh, ‘birther’ nuts – WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK – types are not just on radio, FOX News, but are alive and well within the bowels and fancy offices of the Santa Clara County Office of Education and hearts & minds of a few members of the County Board.

    In conclusion, ‘leading while Brown’ (De La Torre, members of his cabinet less the one Weis leftover) and/or ‘learning while Brown’ in this county is a hard road to traverse. It can be hazardous to one’s career and prospects to receive a great education.
    Chew on that Di Salvo.